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Conservative seen set to win Cyprus presidency

21 february 2013, 18:15
Cyprus heads for a presidential runoff on Sunday, with the first round's rightwing winner, who backs a bailout for the near bankrupt island, expected to beat an independent put up by the discredited communist-led government, AFP reports.

Disy party head Nicos Anastasiades, 66, is seen as someone the European Union can do business with, as the country seeks an estimated 17 billion-euro ($23-billion) lifeline.

On Wednesday, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's warned Cyprus faces a "material and rising risk" of defaulting on its debt if it does not receive a bailout.

In June, with the economy in an unprecedented recession exacerbated by local banks' losses from the Greek debt crisis, President Demetris Christofias of the communist AKEL party sought a bailout.

But Christofias, who did not run for re-election, resisted tough measures urged by the European Commission and European Central Bank, along with the International Monetary Fund.

Eurozone finance ministers have deferred deciding on a bailout package until after the elections.

Anastasiades accused the Christofias administration on Wednesday of placing Cyprus in an "exceptionally difficult" position as it quickly runs out of cash.

"In the past we came through great difficulties, and with hard work we can make it and stand tall," he told supporters.

"The outgoing government of AKEL leaves behind it a series of economic, social and political deadlocks."

Political horse trading began in earnest this week after Anastasiades failed to reach the magical 50 percent plus one vote threshold to clinch the election.

Anastasiades won 45.46 percent of the vote on Sunday, ahead of AKEL-backed Stavros Malas, at 26.91 percent.

Both men sought to woo support from former foreign minister George Lillikas, who came third. But he declined to become a kingmaker, telling his supporters to give both candidates a "vote of no confidence".

The socialist party Edek, which had backed Lillikas, advised its members to "vote with their conscience".

Malas argues for "softer" austerity measures and advocates a government of national unity but he is stigmatised by the Christofias administration's unpopularity.

The 45-year-old -- whose inability to forge a wider alliance has left him far behind Anastasiades -- accuses his rival of being ready to "surrender" to any demands imposed by international lenders that would send the island deeper into recession.

But Anastasiades campaign advertisements ask voters: "Can you endure another five years of economic catastrophe?"

On the political front, the international community will also expect the new president, who will serve a five-year term, to pick up the pieces of a deadlocked UN push for peace.

Cyprus, which gained independence from Britain in 1960, has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Anastasiades supported a failed "Yes" vote on a UN reunification blueprint in 2004 that was rejected by Greek Cypriots and approved by Turkish Cypriots, resulting in a divided island joining the EU.

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